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The Brothers Karamazov: Novel Summary: Part II Book IV - Strains (Chapters 1-7)

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Part II Book IV - Strains (Chapters 1-7)

Chapter 1: Father Ferapont
Though he is feeling weak, Zosima gets up next morning and teaches the monks as usual, as he loves to share his joy in life. He tells the monks to love one another and never to think that they are better than those outside the walls of the monastery. He explains that everyone is guilty of everyone else's sins. Only by realizing this can a monk learn to love mankind. A monk must love even atheists and teachers of evil. He must not love money.
All of the monks are expecting some miracle to occur upon Zosima's death. This even includes Father Paissy, a stern, mistrustful monk who has always been Zosima's confessor. Already, news has arrived via Madame Khokhlakov that the old lady whom Zosima advised not to place the name of her soldier son among the dead to spur him into writing to her, has had a letter from the son immediately she reached home. What is more, the son had written that he would soon come home. Thus Zosima's prophecy to the old lady was fulfilled. Father Paissy thinks that, in the light of this, great things can be expected when Zosima dies. One monk who may not subscribe to this view is Father Ferapont, an old monk who practices austerities such as fasting and keeping silence, sees devils attached to other monks, and disapproves of the notion of elders. He is "an adversary of the elder Zosima" and carries the sympathies of many of the monks.
Zosima summons Alyosha and asks if anyone is expecting to see him today. Alyosha wants to stay with Zosima but admits that his father, brothers and others are expecting him. Zosima insists that he go and promises not to die without saying his last word on earth in Alyosha's presence. Alyosha reluctantly leaves, and is given some parting advice by Father Paissy. Father Paissy says that even though modern science has discarded the sacred, the sacred still exists as immovably as before. Scientists, who focus on the parts (aspects of the material world), are blind to the whole (God). Alyosha wonders if Zosima has "bequeathed" him Father Paissy, to love him as Zosima did.
Chapter 2: At his father's
Alyosha returns home and finds Fyodor Pavlovich feeling weak after Dmitri's attack and in hostile mood. Fyodor Pavlovich says that Ivan has left and accuses him of trying to win Dmitri's fianc�e, Katerina, so that Dmitri will be free to marry Grushenka. This is part of Ivan's secret plot, he claims, to prevent Fyodor Pavlovich marrying Grushenka. Fyodor Pavlovich goes on to say that he plans to live for a long time and he plans to keep up his sensualist lifestyle to the end, for which he will need every penny he has. He does not believe in the immortality of the soul. Fyodor Pavlovich says that Alyosha is the only person with whom he has "kind moments," and that otherwise he is "an evil man." Alyosha counters that he is not evil, just "twisted."
Chapter 3: He gets involved with schoolboys
As Alyosha is heading for Madame Khokhlakov's house, he comes across a group of schoolboys throwing stones across a ditch at a smaller, sickly-looking boy. The smaller boy throws a stone back, which hits Alyosha. Alyosha shields the smaller boy with his own body and tells them to stop. The attackers claim that the smaller boy started the quarrel by stabbing another boy with a penknife. The smaller boy is hit in the chest with a stone and runs away, crying. Alyosha is concerned for the boy and runs after him to find out why he is being bullied. The boy throws a stone at Alyosha and then bites his finger through to the bone. Alyosha calmly asks the boy what he did to deserve this. The boy bursts into tears and runs away.
Chapter 4: At the Khokhlakovs'
Alyosha arrives at Madame Khokhlakov's, and is told that Ivan is already there, talking with Katerina upstairs. Alyosha asks Madame Khokhlakov for a bandage for his finger. While she is fetching it, Lise orders Alyosha to come and talk to her. She demands that he give her back the love letter she wrote to him, claiming it was a joke. Alyosha replies that he has not brought the letter with him, and adds that he took it seriously and intends to marry her. Lise cannot believe that he could overlook the fact that she is in a wheelchair, but he says he does not mind, and in any case, suspects that she will recover.
Before Alyosha goes to speak to Katerina, Madame Khokhlakov warns him that "the most fantastic comedy" is taking place. Katerina loves Ivan, but she is trying to persuade herself that she loves Dmitri.
Chapter 5: Strain in the drawing room
As Alyosha and Madame Khokhlakov enter the room in which Ivan is talking to Katerina, Ivan is about to leave. Alyosha silently reflects on the possibility that Katerina really does love Ivan but is tormenting herself with an affected love for Dmitri, out of "strain" and supposed gratitude for Dmitri. Katerina asks Ivan to stay while she talks to Alyosha. She says that she has heard about Dmitri's attack on his father and is not sure whether she still loves him, though she pities him. She has decided that she will devote herself to Dmitri for the rest of her life - even if he marries Grushenka: "I will be his god, to whom he shall pray." She says that Ivan approves of her decision. Ivan confirms this and says he is going to leave for Moscow tomorrow. Katerina asks Alyosha's opinion.
Alyosha is shocked by what he sees as Katerina's theatrical act. He says it is clear that she does not love Dmitri, and that she is tormenting Ivan because she loves him (Ivan). Ivan defends Katerina, saying that she loves Dmitri and only kept Ivan near her to torment him and take revenge for all the insults that she endured from Dmitri. He says the more Dmitri insults her, the more she loves him. She needs Dmitri out of pride, in order to contemplate her high deed of faithfulness, and to reproach him for his unfaithfulness. Ivan leaves.
Katerina gives Alyosha two hundred roubles and asks him to give them to the retired sea captain, Snegiryov, whom Dmitri assaulted after he acted as Fyodor Pavlovich's agent. She says that the captain's young son saw the attack and begged onlookers to help his father, but everyone had laughed. She has heard that the family is poor, the children sick, and the mother insane.
When Katerina has left the room, Madame Khokhlakov reveals to Alyosha that Katerina's family wants her to break with Dmitri and marry Ivan. A maid enters and reports that Katerina is in hysterics.
Chapter 6: Strain in the cottage
Tormenting himself with the belief that far from uniting Katerina with Ivan, he has helped to separate them, Alyosha leaves to visit Snegiryov. Alyosha reflects on Katerina's account of the episode in which Dmitri assaulted Snegiryov, and intuits that Ilyusha, the little boy who had witnessed the attack, must have been the same boy who bit his finger. The boy had bitten Alyosha because he recognized him as the brother of his father's attacker.
Alyosha arrives at Snegiryov's cottage and finds the whole family in. He introduces himself as the brother of Dmitri. Snegiryov leads Alyosha outside to talk.
Chapter 7: And in the fresh air
Snegiryov describes to Alyosha how Dmitri dragged him by the beard to the town square. Ilyusha was coming out of school and shouted to Dmitri to let go of his father and forgive him. Ilyusha had even kissed Dmitri's hand, the same hand that was dragging Snegiryov by the beard. That same day, Ilyusha had become angry and fallen ill with a fever. Alyosha promises Snegiryov that Dmitri will apologize, or Alyosha will disown him.
Snegiryov explains that Ilyusha is now being bullied by the other boys because of his conciliatory action towards Dmitri. Now, Ilyusha wants revenge on Dmitri. Alyosha says that Dmitri has also insulted his fianc�e, Katerina, and that she has sent two hundred roubles to Snegiryov to make up for Dmitri's violence towards him. At first, Snegiryov accepts the money, and happily plans ways of using it to help his family. But suddenly, he changes his mind, and flings the money to the ground. He says he would be dishonored before his son if he were to accept it. As he runs off, Alyosha picks up the money and takes it back to Katerina.
One of the themes of The Brothers Karamazov is that each person shares responsibility for the sins of every other person on earth. Zosima has accepted this responsibility and it has led to his feeling a oneness with all humankind and a complete absence of moral superiority. In Chapter 1, Zosima tells the monks, "For you must know, my dear ones, that each of us is undoubtedly guilty on behalf of all and for all on earth."
Alyosha either has these qualities naturally or has learned them from Zosima - probably something of both. His love for mankind makes him unable to judge or condemn anyone. This applies even when someone appears to be malicious, as when Ilyusha bites him. Instead of reacting vengefully or with resentment, Alyosha's instinct is to try to understand the boy. He wonders what can have happened to him to produce such hostility. Sure enough, when he follows up the case, he finds out that on the day of Dmitri's attack, the boy acted lovingly towards his father, Snegiryov, and tried to defend him. Ilyusha also acted honorably towards Dmitri, begging him to forgive Snegiryov. Only when other boys bullied Ilyusha for his conciliatory stance did Ilyusha turn hostile, biting Alyosha in revenge for Dmitri's attack on Snegiryov. Alyosha's habit is to break such vicious cycles of wrongdoing and revenge, and to transform them into understanding and love. In taking Katerina's money to Snegiryov and promising to make Dmitri apologize, Alyosha is taking the first step to heal this festering wound. That Snegiryov refuses Katerina's money is a setback for Alyosha, but it is not the end of this story.
Alyosha's love for humanity gives him the ability, shared with Zosima, to see into people's souls and know how they really feel underneath the pretence and fear. He sees clearly that Ivan and Katerina love each other but that they refuse to admit it because of defensive pride and a strong drive towards martyrdom on Katerina's part. Dostevsky uses Ivan and Katerina to show the effects of lack of faith, or doubt, on the human psyche. Ivan's religious doubt and Katerina's obsession with the emotional wounds that Dmitri has dealt her mean that they do not believe in themselves or in the rest of humanity. They do not assume that they have a right to future happiness. Instead, Katerina is determined to make her life into a shrine to her former love, Dmitri, and thus to solidify the wrongs that have passed between them. Ivan is willing to allow her to do this and to give up hope of winning her for himself. Both create suffering for themselves when they could be creating happiness. We see the same fatalistic attitude in Fyodor Pavlovich, who announces that he intends to continue his sensualist lifestyle until he dies, and is determined to hold onto all his money in order to sustain it - and this in spite of the fact that this lifestyle has brought him no happiness and a great deal of fear and mistrust. He is effectively denying himself the possibility of fulfillment or transformation.
In the novel, Dostoevsky contrasts the life lived in faith (Zosima, Alyosha) with the life lived in doubt (Ivan, Katerina, Fyodor Pavlovich, Smerdyakov). It is clear that he believes that the life lived in faith is preferable in all respects, from personal fulfillment to one's treatment of, and effect on, the rest of mankind.


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